The city of Dover will be working to improve its notification system during electrical outages, but lack of funding will prevent installation of an automated system similar to that used by the state's two largest power companies.
Speaking at the Monday meeting of the city's Utility Committee, City Manager Scott Koenig said for such a system to work, the city would have to switch from its current electric metering system to smart meters on all buildings on the city's power grid.
Both the Delaware Electric Coop and Delmarva Power use outage management software that shows a geographic area where power is out and provides an estimated repair time, Koenig said.
But that system relies on electrical meters that can provide outage information to a central database, Koenig said. The city does not use smart meters, and installing them, plus purchasing the supporting software, would be prohibitively expensive, Koenig said.
"We'd have to do a very large and very expensive upgrade of our metering system to get any kind of a return on that software," he said. "At this point, we don't think it's cost effective, so it's not an option to pursue in the current budget."
Statistics show the city's electric department provides a very reliable service, Koenig said. Currently the city works toward an annual outage goal of less than 295 minutes per customer annually, a standard set by the state Public Service Commission.
The city's electric department has been successful in meeting that goal, Koenig added. So far in FY 2014, the city has had an average of 61 minutes of outages per customer. There were five outages in July, four in August and eight in September, he said.
Delmarva Power and the Delaware Electric Coop have the means to post extensive outage notification on their Facebook pages, but the city does not have the manpower to duplicate that service, he said.
In addition, if an outage occurred outside normal working hours, additional staff would have to be brought in, which would result in overtime costs.
It would be up to City Council to support using those resources and to find the monies needed to eventually install an automated notification system for city residents, Koenig said.
Currently, city staff is working to provide helpful information to council members so they can respond to calls from their districts during outages, he said.
"We don't get a lot of complaints about power outages or the lack of information during outages," Koenig said. "We have a very reliable system. If there is an interest in us posting things [on Facebook or Twitter] and people can articulate what type of information they're looking for, we'll try to write that into our policies and procedures, as long as we can do so economically."
Page 2 of 2 - As for now, however, the city budget wouldn't support additional high-tech solutions to the way the city spreads the word about power outages.
"I really don't want to spend a lot of money on power outage software unless people really want it," Koenig said. "I think the numbers favor us not doing that right now."